I have seen the light

Integrating less lethal concepts with high tech illumination devices

Everyone knows the flashlight is an indispensable tool, and those using one in law enforcement as of late have been fully indoctrinated into the politically correct "illumination only" aspect of its design and intended use. Likewise, those who have been around the business more than a few years can remember when the flash light was used for lighting up more than the night.

As a new officer in April of 1979, I had the privilege of being "broken in" by FTO Charles Anthony Wallace. To me and the many who had come before, "Tony" was E.F. Hutton. When he spoke, we listened. During our first week together he offered sage advice on a number of subjects, including the value of the flashlight during officer/subject encounters. It didn't matter whether it was day or night, when you conducted police business you carried your flashlight. Not in a ring on your belt, but grasped "weak hand" behind the head, body resting on your shoulder. Tony explained that when talking with a "person of interest," the primary focus should be on:

  • Maintaining an appropriate reactionary gap.
  • Ensuring that your body was bladed gun side away.
  • Having your flashlight "shoulder-ready".

Should the subject unexpectedly move the discussion to a higher level, you would be in a position to immediately and without warning:

  • Distract/divert his attention by shining the light directly in his eyes.
  • Step to the weak side of the advance.
  • Engage the attacker with a downward flick of the wrist and rotation of the hips, bringing the full weight of the illumination device to bear across the collar bone of the advancing subject.

C.A. Wallace was preaching and teaching the concept of distraction/diversion long before it was "cool" and recognized then what many have since come to realize: The flashlight has more potential value than simply shedding light on a dark situation.

Fast forward to the 21st century. A significant amount of research has been and is being conducted into the less lethal weapon aspect of light, and using it to divert/distract a suspect's attention and limit his access and opportunities in officer/suspect encounters. Enter Vaughn Baker, Strategos International, and the Gladius flashlight.

Vaughn and I have crossed SWAT paths for many years. Both of our agencies are members of the Kansas City Metro Tactical Officers Association, and we shared the mutual enjoyment of bringing our teams together at such places as the Iron Policeman and International SWAT Roundup competitions. Vaughn is the real deal, and I've come to know and respect him greatly-not just in the SWAT arena, but in the area of reduced illumination environment training. He and Seal Team One partner Ken Good literally wrote the book on the subject, were the course developers and lead instructors of the first institute dedicated to the topic and have truly forgotten more about this area of instruction than most of those teaching it will ever know.

With that preamble in mind, I was most interested when Vaughn called a while back and asked if I would try out a new flashlight that he had and his associates had developed. A short time later a Gladius arrived, and I've spent the past few months giving it a go.

If you want a detailed technical evaluation of the flashlight, peruse the 10+ pages of "Google" hits you'll get when you run the word. This is a less lethal column, and my focus is on applying such concepts to officer/suspect encounters-as opposed to testing products. Likewise, the device does offer something unique and potentially effective in the "less lethal" realm, and it can be found in the advanced mode of operation. The basic process involves rotating the tail cap to select a particular mode, then pushing a button located inside to activate.

The device can be set for standard momentary activation, which is simply "push on-release off." It can also be set for constant on, which involves pressing the switch to turn on, and pressing it again to turn off. Nothing revolutionary yet, but stand by. If the user maintains pressure while in the "constant on" mode, the light begins an auto-dim sequence after 1.5 seconds. When the desired level is reached, simply lift the finger and the light stays at that level. Hold the switch down again, and the light slowly begins to re-intensify back to full power. Rapidly press the switch at any time during the up/down process, and the light immediately returns to the full power setting.

The light also offers a "system off" end cap setting that will forever prevent accidental discharge while being carried, stowed, etc., and a low battery indicator in the form of two rapid (1/10 second) "pulses" every 10 seconds, when the power reaches a pre-determined "approaching discharge" level. These are neat features, and clearly beneficial to the officer in the field - but what I found most interesting was the setting referred to as "Rapid Fire or Strobe." In brief, this allows the operator to generate a 90+ lumen strobe effect, which is geared towards distracting and disorienting a suspect. Author Frank Borelli writes about this concept in an article from Blackwater's Tactical Weekly Newsletter and says that the pulses of light are:

"at the optimal rate to interrupt linear thought processes and create an imbalance in your opponent", and that, "the human mind actually has a hard time processing images that come in at a certain rate. Preliminary research shows that confronting an aggressor with this pattern of light directly into his eyes can cause reactions including: imbalance, involuntary closing of the eyes, turning the head, a loss of depth perception, a feeling of pending physical impact, and sometimes even an increase in heart and respiration rate due to the psychological stress caused by the mental overload."

Will the Gladius actually do all of this? Hard to say for sure at this point, but what I can say after causing it to tested by a number of officers in a variety of environments - operational and otherwise - is that when you deploy the strobe without warning into the eyes of most people (41 out of 50 in the actual test), they immediately close their eyes, turn their head, and react physically in a manner consistent with one who has had something tossed into their eyes. One officer participating in the test noted that the initial reaction was similar to that of a person hit with Oleoresin Capsicum spray.

The bottom line is this - we've all been exposed to a strobe light environment, and I think we would universally agree that it is hard to look at and orient to. We have truly only scratched the surface of the potential benefit of this technology in the officer safety/survival realm. Having this instantaneous capability in the palm of your hand clearly offers benefits beyond a standard flashlight, and does so in a non contact and minimally intrusive way.

The Gladius is an ultra high tech illumination device, and I've not seen anything else that even comes close to it from a features and performance perspective. It lists for $249.95, and at that price you'd have to ask the question: Is it worth it? Based on my personal experience and what I've outlined above, I'd say no-it's actually worth more. Would I offer any suggestions for improvement? I'll defer to the thought process of my mentor, C.A. Wallace. I'm confident he would be most impressed with the strobe feature, but I could hear him politely asking, "could they raise the lumens to around 180 and make it a foot longer and two pounds heavier"?

Note: All equipment reviewed by Major Steve Ijames is returned to the manufacturer after the review process is completed.

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